To the border: 370,37 km
After the border: 180,29 km
Total distance: 550,66 km
A different kind of stage…
Not exactly a rest day, but no racing, ‘just’ a liaison to go from Mongolia to China. Leaving from the bivouac from 5:30 (GMT+8): 550,66 kilometres at a gentle pace, interspersed with customs formalities between the two countries. In the beginning of the afternoon the first vehicles should have arrived in Bayin Boalige for the first Chinese bivouac.
In the space of one week, since the start in Irkusk, two thirds of the 2019 SILK WAY RALLY has already been covered, leaving behind it unforgettable memories of Lake Baikal and Eastern Siberia. The arrival in Mongolia, in the heart of the green desert, with its endless steppes, saw the rally really get under way, provoking numerous upsets, notably in the motorcycle class, during the marathon stage. With 1.843,61 kilometres (of which 821,34 are selective section) still remaining over the three stages in China, this 2019 SILK WAY RALLY is about to offer a dream epilogue in the heart of the giant dunes of the Gobi Desert.
Luc Alphand (SWR Sport’s advisor): “In China the scenery will change completely. The ground becomes more arid and the competitors will discover conditions not dissimilar to those of Morocco. They’ll need to watch out for sharp stones as well as the oued in the valleys that will become much more frequent. We will get into the sand on the first Chinese stage, with the second, between Alashan and Jiayuguan being 100% sand with the famous giant dunes. The driving style will change and the navigation will become much more complicated in places. Where the gaps could be counted in minutes in Siberia and Mongolia they can sometimes be calculated in hours in the dunes. In the cars and the bikes Nasser (Al-Attiyah) and Sam (Sunderland) have managed to build up a lead that will allow them to tackle what is to come without having to rush at it. But they know that everything could unravel if they get stuck in the sand or make a big navigation error. Even if they have experience in the dunes neither of them knows the Gobi Desert. Knowing the determination of the Kamaz-Master team, Viazovich won’t be able to sleep easy until the final finish line in Dunhuang.”
@ OF NOTE
# Sunderland: Simply faultless
# Al-Attiyah: “China is going to be complicated”
# Viazovich: “We are going to go flat out!”
# Tomorrow: The whole range
Sunderland: Simply faultless
At the beginning of the first ever SILK WAY RALLY open to bikes there were no less than 12 professional factory riders on the start list. You don’t obtain such a coveted position without being blisteringly fast and in with a chance of finishing on the podium. The proof: one of the least experienced riders, from the smallest factory team, Oriol Mena (Hero Motorsports Team), is currently second overall. Among those 12 there were 3 that were heavily tipped for the win: Joan Barreda and Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda Team) and Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory). When he was one of the dominate forces in the bikes, two times winner of the SILK WAY RALLY in the cars, Cyril Despres used to say ‘the winner was the one that made the least mistakes’. And clearly so far on this 2019 SILK WAY RALLY that’s been Sam Sunderland. Unlike Joan Barreda he hasn’t crashed. Unlike Keven Benavides he hasn’t got lost. Quite simply, he hasn’t put a foot wrong. Which explains why, with 3 special victories, he is currently leading the overall by more than 21 minutes. And that lead has been achieved with a fair dose of panache – his winning the second day of the marathon stage while opening the track being a case in point. Having grown up in Dubai, the British rider is at ease in the dunes. And in the dunes the tracks made by the bikes make it difficult to make the break. But despite all those two factors in his favour coming into the Gobi, the current leader of the FIM World Championship isn’t counting his chickens before they’ve hatched. As he says, “Even with a lead of 20 minutes you can’t afford to start managing your race, There’s too much that could go wrong. Plus, I find it better to maintain a certain speed and stay focused.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “China is going to be complicated”
Unbeaten since the start in Irkutsk, with 6 wins over the 6 stages, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) have left mere crumbs for their rivals. The premature retirement of their teammate and the title holder, the Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al Rajhi (broken engine) has no doubt made their job easier. But nevertheless, from the tricky tracks of Siberia to the ultra-fast Mongolian steppes, the winners of the last Dakar have been untouchable, to the point of being able drop the pace slightly over the last two stages. Relegating Liu Kun (Hanwei SMG), the winner of the last Chinese edition of the SILK WAY RALLY, to more than 40 minutes, Nasser Al-Attiyah can go into China with a reasonable hope of achieving a first final victory on an event where the win has so far escaped him. “I nevertheless think that the last three days in China are going to be complicated,” admits the Qatari driver. “It will be the same for everyone, because I think the contrast will be big with what we’ve had up until now, since the start of this race in Siberia and in Mongolia. We are very curious to discover this part of the Gobi Desert. Normally I like the sand and the dunes. But whether they are in Africa, South America, the Middle East or here in China, they are all different.” Which in theory gives an advantage to Liu Kun and the many other Chinese drivers still fighting for a place on the podium, with no less than 6 crews present in the top 10.
Siarhey Viazovich: “We’re going to go flat out”
Three victories out of 6 stages and overall leader since the first day: Siarhey Viazovich (MAZ) has given the Kamaz-Master team a hard time. At the wheel of his long nose truck, the Belarusian driver has successfully managed the first two acts of this 2019 SILK WAY RALLY, resisting repeated assaults of the troops from Naberejnye Tchelny. Unused to such resistance Andrei Karginov, winner of the last edition in Russia, Anton Shibalov and Airat Mardeev (winner in 2012 and 2016) have launched several unsuccessful offensives. For Viazovich, there’s no doubt, the final victory will be decided in the Gobi Desert. “It all depends what the conditions will be like on these three last stages”, admits the driver from Minsk frankly. “We are here to test our new truck. So we are going to push it to the limit in every situation to see if there are any weaknesses. We are going to continue to driver flat out in China, because up until now it is a tactic that has worked pretty well.” Handicapped by his Renault’s lack of power over the ultra-fast Mongolian tracks, the Dutchman Martin van den Brink, who is currently half an hour off the podium, is also waiting for the sand and the dunes with impatience…
STAT OF THE DAY
Contrary to what you might imagine, the Gobi Desert, the site of the third and final act of this 2019 SILK WAY RALLY, is not confined to China. In fact it spreads across almost all the arid region of Central Asia, between Russia and China, as well as into the south of Mongolia. 1500 kilometres from east to west, it is a desert of contrasts. There are rocks and steppes as well as dunes, and while it can very hot (45°C in summer) it can also go down to -40°C in winter. Surrounded by the Altaï mountain, the Mongolian steppes, the Tibetan plateau and the plains of northern China, the Gobi Desert is as impressive in its diversity as it is in size.
TOMORRW: BAYIN BAOLIGE - ALASHAN
Total distance: 785, 11 km
Selective section: 326,6 km
30% dunes / 10% sand / 25% stony / 35% earth
The whole range
Full variety of surfaces. The eighth stage is not only the longest, after some rest during a “no race” day, but also the most challenging one, as it offers a full variety of surfaces. The first high dunes will set an initial challenge for those with little driving experience, and after catching the correct direction one will face a range of new obstacles – not just sand, but also dry riverbeds, ravines, canyons and steppes. The closer to finish, the faster one needs to move.